Thursday, May 31, 2012

Animals, And Thoughts On Life

Sometimes I stop and watch the animals when I’m working in the garden.


And as I watch, I wonder what they think about.


Do they think about life the way we do? I don’t think so. I imagine they act mostly on instinct, and don’t ponder their existence; don’t question why they do the things they do; don’t wonder what the purpose of it all is.


They carry out their responsibilities without questioning them. They do whatever needs to be done without complaining. They go about their day without analyzing their past or worrying about their future.


They live for the moment from one day to the next. And when it’s time to move on, they simply accept it. There are no regrets. There is no anger.


As I watch them and think about all this, I wonder what it would be like to be a part of their world instead of ours.


To have to struggle to find food each day. To worry about your babies being preyed on. To worry that you’ll be preyed on. To live in the cold. Rain. Heat. Snow. To compete with others for shelter, including humans.


I realize that every living creature on earth has its own struggles. And that we’re all doing the best we can.

Including this sweet chipmunk, Mr. Inski...

“I eat, therefore I am”

Tune Time – Jungle Love

If you grew up in the 70s, you’ll recognize this 1977 song by the Steve Miller Band. I’m not the biggest fan of this group, but I do enjoy listening to a tune or two of theirs now and again. Like this one.


Today's Trivia – 1950s Events

I always enjoy learning about things that happened in history. This week focuses on world events of the 1950s...


1950

- North Korea invades South Korea and captures Seoul in the first weeks of the conflict. At the United Nations, the Soviet Union is boycotting proceedings, so the U.S. is able to push through a resolution to fight back against North Korea. The Korean "Conflict" begins with U.S. General Douglas Macarthur as commander of U.N. troops. He is able to stop the Communist advance, land troops at Inchon and push the North Koreans almost to the Chinese border. In November 1950, the Chinese invade and push UN troops half way back down the peninsula.

- Nationalist China leader Chiang Kai-shek establishes an anticommunist government on the island of Taiwan (Formosa) after being defeated on the mainland.

- The Soviet Union begins putting nuclear missiles on submarines.

- U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin tells President Truman that the State Department is infiltrated with communists and communist sympathizers. This initiates a period of witch hunts and blacklists.

- Former U.S. State Department official Hiss is convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison. He was accused of being a Soviet spy in 1948.

- Israel's new "Law of Return" grants automatic citizenship to any immigrant Jews from around the world. Iraq's Jewish community migrates to Israel, as do many others. The Arab League institutes an economic boycott of Israel.

- Palestinian refugee camps are set up overseen by the UN Relief and Works Agency. They are given a budget of just $27 per person.

- The postwar baby boom dramatically increases birthrates in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

- There are 1.5 million television sets in the U.S. this year. By 1951, there are 15 million – ten times as many in one year. By 1960, Americans own 85 million TV sets. In 1950, CBS broadcasts the first TV program in color.

- The Diner's Club card is introduced and becomes the first "credit card" accepted at multiple retail establishments.


1951

- General Douglas MacArthur is relieved of his command by President Truman after the General criticized Truman's policy of limiting the war to the Korean Peninsula. A stalemate in the Korean Conflict begins to take shape.

- The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed, limiting the president to a maximum of two terms in office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to four terms beginning in 1932. He died within months of beginning his fourth term. He was the first and only president to be elected to more than two terms.

- The UNIVAC is introduced as the first commercial computer. It's sold by Remington Rand, a typewriter maker. It gains fame by crunching the numbers that allow pollsters to predict the winner of the 1952 presidential election.

- Electric power is produced from the first atomic power reactor in Arcon, Idaho. The U.S. tests nuclear weapons in Nevada and the South Pacific throughout the 50s.

- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death for espionage against the U.S. for selling classified information about the atomic bomb to the Russians. They are executed in 1953.

- Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed coins the term "rock-and-roll."


1952

- Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president of the United States, the first Republican president in 20 years. Richard Nixon is his Vice-President.

- King George VI of England dies, and he is succeeded by his young daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

- Japan regains official independence, ending over six years of American occupation. Japan and the U.S. put into effect a security treaty that makes these former enemies into allies.

- Israel and Germany agree on restitution for damages done to Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II.

- Mother Teresa opens the Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India.


1953

- The Korean War ends after three years of inconclusive fighting. An armistice is signed and the boundary between North and South Korea is drawn at the 38th parallel.

- Nikita Khrushchev is appointed First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party after Joseph Stalin dies. He will rule the Soviet Union through the most turbulent years of the Cold War. He was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev in October 1964.

- The Soviet Union detonates its first hydrogen bomb with much more power than the atomic bomb.

- Cambodia gains independence from France. Next door, the French fight to hold onto Vietnam.

- Heavy flooding in Holland kills 2,000 people.

- The Shah of Iran is returned to power in a coup that is supported by the U.S. and Great Britain. The former Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, had taken over western-owned oil companies and was becoming a Soviet ally.

- Cigarette smoking is reported to cause lung cancer for the first time.

- British physicist Francis Crick and American biologist James Watson publish their famous paper on the double-helix structure of DNA, the material in chromosomes that control heredity.

- Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain.

Clockwise, from left: United Nations soldiers during the Korean War, which was the first UN authorized conflict; Two atomic explosions from the RDS-37 and Upshot-Knothole (Soviet and American, respectively) nuclear weapons, symbolizing the escalation of Cold War tensions between the two nations in the 1950s; Israeli troops prepare to fight the Egyptians during the Suez Crisis of 1956; A replica of Sputnik I, the world's first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957; Fidel Castro leads the Cuban Revolution in 1959; North Sea flood of 1953

1954

- U.S. President Eisenhower formulates the domino theory that says that once one country falls to a communist regime others in the region will be vulnerable, too. It is this theory that will be invoked by President Lyndon Johnson to escalate the war in Vietnam.

- The Brown v. Board of Education decision is handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court saying that "separate but equal" school systems are unconstitutional. An era of desegregation of schools is instituted.

- A rebellion against French colonial rule begins in Algeria. It will last for eight years before Algeria wins independence.

- Vietnamese communists take Dien Bien Phu and occupy Hanoi, forcing a complete French withdrawal from Indochina. In July, at a conference in Geneva, the country is divided into North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel.

- The U.S. enters into the SEATO Treaty, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, to oppose communism in Asia. The mutual defense organization included Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, Pakistan, France, England and the U.S. The treaty was disbanded in 1977.

- China's Yangtze River overflows, killing 40,000 and forcing 10 million people to evacuate.

- First human trials of "the pill" oral contraceptive for women.

- RCA introduces the first color TV sets, and NBC begins regular broadcasts in color.

- The U.S. launches the first nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus.


1955

- Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister in England and is defeated for re-election.

- The Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe ratify the Warsaw Pact. Later, Churchill calls this act the equivalent of forming an "Iron Curtain" across Europe. The Cold War deepens.

- Rosa Parks, an African American woman, is arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest sparks a bus boycott led by local minister Martin Luther King, Jr., and sets the American civil rights movement in motion.

- Sony – then known as Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering – produces the first pocket-size transistor radio. Before that, all radios had to have tubes and were large, heavy machines.


1956

- Dwight Eisenhower reelected as President of the United States. That same year, he signs the Interstate highway into law.

- Nikita Khrushchev tells Western ambassadors, "We will bury you." He also begins "de-Stalinization," releasing millions of political prisoners and liberalizing Soviet politics. Still, Soviet troops invade Hungary to crush an uprising against the Communist government there.

- The second Arab-Israeli war is fought after Egypt seizes the Suez Canal from the British. Israeli invades Egyptian territory east of the Canal with British and French help. However, eventually the UN declares the canal Egyptian property.

- Pakistan becomes an Islamic republic.

- Former colonies gain independence – Sudan from England, and Tunisia and Morocco from France.

- Elvis Presley releases the first of more than 170 hit songs, "Heartbreak Hotel."

- American movie star Grace Kelly marries Prince Rainier of Monaco.


1957

- The Soviet Union launches the Sputnik satellite, the first man-made object to orbit the earth. About the same time, the Soviets test their first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that's capable of delivering nuclear warheads in minutes to the U.S.

- North Vietnam, through the Viet Cong, begins a guerilla war against South Vietnam.

- Arkansas governor Orval Faubus calls the National Guard to prevent nine African American students from integrating Little Rock's Central High School. He defies the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

- Martin Luther King, Jr., forms the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote nonviolent solutions to segregation.

- Ghana gains independence from Great Britain.

- In the U.S. the baby boom peaks as 4.3 million Americans are born, the highest number in 30 years. During the 50s, 29 million babies are born.

- The British allow women to become members of the House of Lords for the first time.


1958

- The U.S. and Canada develop NORAD, a radar system close to the North Pole to detect and provide the U.S. with an early warning of a Soviet missile attack.

- In Cuba, Fidel Castro launches a revolution against the Batista government. Batista flees in 1959, and Castro becomes premier of Cuba.

- The European Economic Community – also called the Common Market – is begun to give Europe the same economic leverage as the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

- Iraq's King Faisal is assassinated by the army. Iraq becomes a republic, withdraws from the Baghdad Pact and allies itself with the Soviets.
- The former colonies of Madagascar, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa gain their independence but maintain ties to the French Community.

- NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is founded and starts the Mercury project to take the first Americans into space.

- Charles de Gaulle is elected president of France in large part because he is in favor of allowing former colonies gain independence. He proposes the creation of the French Community giving former colonies the right to independence.


1959

- Fidel Castro installs the first communist regime in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. breaks off diplomatic relations in 1961.

- In Vietnam, the first U.S. noncombatant military advisers die in a Viet Cong attack. In 1961, the U.S. agrees to supply South Vietnamese troops.

- Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th states in the United States.

- Yasser Arafat establishes the militant Arab group al-Fatah that is dedicated to building a Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

- Xerox introduces the first commercial photocopier to the market.

- American Airlines launches the jet age in the U.S. transportation industry with the first transcontinental flights with a Boeing 707 aircraft.

- The Soviet Union's unmanned Luna 2 rocket reaches the moon. This same year, the U.S. launches into space and safely retrieves two monkeys.

- Albert Sabin develops a live-virus polio vaccine that can be taken orally and offers longer immunity than the Salk vaccine.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Introverts: Stand Up And Be Counted!

“Hi. My name is Martha and...”

[pause]

...cough...

...clear throat...

“...I’m an introvert.”

[applause]

“Welcome, Martha, to the United Introverts Club.”

Okay, so there isn’t such a club, but perhaps there should be. Because there certainly are enough of us out there. But then, how many of us would attend, since we don’t like to be in crowds very often, and when we do, we want it happening at a time that works for us?

Well...

What is an introvert, you ask?

It is a person who relates to the inner world of ideas rather than to the outer world of things and people. Someone who likes – and needs – quiet time for concentration, and for introspection of their thoughts and feelings. Someone who often limits their contact with social situations because being with people for extended lengths of time, especially in large gatherings such as at a party, drains them of energy, and they then require time alone to ‘recharge’. Someone who doesn’t need to constantly be around other people, or interact with them to the extent that extroverts do. Someone whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.


I am such a person. I draw my power from within. And don’t rely on social contact with others to fill the energy reserves when they’re depleted. I have a brother who is on the opposite end of the socializing spectrum. He is an extreme extrovert; his very being relies on social contact with others. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t spend an ‘x’ amount of time on the phone (my nemesis), or an ‘x’ amount of time interacting with others. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t need to go somewhere, doesn’t need to see someone. He visits. He travels. He zips around from place to place and person to person. His gregarious lifestyle would kill me. My reclusive one would probably kill him. Thankfully, he married an extrovert that he can live it up with. Thankfully, I married an introvert that I can live my life with – quietly.

Was I born an introvert? I believe I was since I’ve been this way since I was a young child. My mother has told me numerous times about how I was able – and perfectly happy – to keep busy on my own, and how I thoroughly enjoyed spending long stretches of time alone without it bothering me in the least. I was socially adept and had a lot of friends, but I just didn’t feel the need to be around them all the time. I needed to withdraw from the social aspects of life and reenergize through my thoughts, art, poetry, writing, photography, reading, and whatever else helped me regain my mental and emotional balance.


There isn’t a census to determine what percentage of individuals fall on the introverted side of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, but it is estimated that about 25 percent of all people are introverts. That’s a pretty big chunk, so it’s not a bad place to be, provided your introverted lifestyle doesn’t hinder your happiness. In other words, a bona fide introvert is not the same as someone suffering from a social anxiety. Individuals inflicted with the latter may prefer to be out and about enjoying themselves (they may be extroverts at heart), but actively avoid social situations due to the anxiety that they suffer from. Introverts purposely choose to limit their social interactions and don’t want to be out and about all the time; too much socializing is exhausting to them, and they would prefer to be alone every so often, or in the company of a select few people.

But despite the fact that a relatively large portion of the population is made up of introverts, it is still an extrovert’s world, and because of that, there are a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about ‘my type’. Here are a few that I’ve discovered along my life’s path:


- Introverts Do Not Like People -

Baloney. They actually value the individuals in their lives tremendously. But they require very few of them. Introverts don’t need a lot of people in their lives just to have a large social circle; they desire genuinely good, solid people. People with substance. When you have gained the respect and affection of an introvert, you’re in. They will add you to their circle of friends, and you will have a loyal and dependable ally for life.


- Introverts Are Anti-Social And Unfriendly -

Hogwash. Introverts enjoy socializing and interacting, and they are just as friendly and loving as extroverts. They just don’t need to socialize all the time, nor do they feel the need to be ‘liked’ by everyone. Spending too much time with other people, particularly with large groups, drains their energy. If given a choice, they prefer a heartfelt connection with one ‘real’ person at a time, or getting together with a small and beloved group of people.


- Introverts Don’t Know How To Have Fun -

Horsefeathers. Introverts have just as much fun as extroverts, but in a quieter setting. They find joy in more earthly or solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking, fishing, gardening, blogging, photography, etc. They prefer a home or nature-type environment instead of a busy and loud public place. This doesn’t mean they never venture into the latter. They just don’t do it as often.


- Introverts Have Nothing To Say -

Bollocks. Introverts have a lot to say. But they don’t speak just for the sake of speaking; they speak when they have something important to say, or when the conversation is interesting. They are not fans of small talk, and they will not participate in conversations that include bragging about status or material items. And they absolutely detest small-minded gossip. But engage them in a fun and stimulating conversation and they’ll ramble on for hours.


- Introverts Are Strange -

Ridiculous. Introverts often march to the beat of their own drum, stepping to the music that they hear within rather than the music that is playing around them. They do not follow crowds or take an interest in trends or care about what’s popular. They live their lives as free-spirited individuals, and barely, if ever, pay attention to what other people say or think about them. As such, they can be labeled as ‘weird’ because they don’t fit in with “the norm”, and often pay the price with disapproval, scorn and even harsh criticism. This is perhaps the hardest trait for an introvert to accept, and many of them may try to pretend otherwise for awhile. After all, it takes guts to be different and stand apart from the masses. Most people do their best to follow conventional wisdom and fit into a group mold, so they can be accepted and liked. But eventually, an introvert will grow to understand and appreciate this side of them, and celebrate their uniqueness.

Okay, maybe we are a bit strange. But we like it that way.


- Introverts Are Cold People -

Poppycock. Introverts think deeply, feel things more intensely, and can be extremely sensitive. They observe the world with their minds and explore their feelings often. They value their privacy, and don’t share personal information with just anyone. So if they come off as being a little reserved, well, they are. This doesn’t mean that they’re cold. Just quiet. And fiercely private.


In my younger years, being an introvert proved to be quite a challenge. And at times, emotionally trying. The world is dominated primarily by extroverts, and social norms favour them. But as I got older, I began to embrace and value this part of me, and the introspective moments that come with it. I am a quiet observer. I stroll rather than run through life. I think deeply. And feel things intensely. I am an introvert. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Today's Trivia - On Top Of The World...Literally

On this day at 11:30 AM, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, became the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth.

They set up high camp at 27,900 feet on May 28, and after a freezing, sleepless night the two men plodded on, reaching the summit by 9 AM and a steep rocky step, some 40 feet high, about an hour later. Wedging himself in a crack in the face, Hillary inched himself up what was thereafter known as the Hillary Step. Hillary threw down a rope, and Norgay followed. At about 11:30 AM, the climbers arrived at the top of the world.

Tenzing Norgay on top of the world. Photo from Royal Geographical Society
Mount Everest has two main has two main climbing routes, the southeast ridge from Nepal and the northeast ridge from Tibet, as well as many other less frequently climbed routes. Of the two main routes, the southeast ridge is technically easier and is the more frequently used route. It was the route used by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. This was, however, a route decision dictated more by politics than by design as the Chinese border was closed to the western world in the 1950s after the People's Republic of China invaded Tibet.

[Info above is from here and here.]

First World Problem

Here is this week’s shameful bellyache...


Monday, May 28, 2012

The Beautiful Azalea 'Mandarin Lights'

Last summer I went a little nutty with adding Azaleas to my garden. I planted three, to be exact; not too many, really, but one too many within a week. I get that way sometimes. I’ve had Clematis moments and coneflower moments and Rudbeckia moments and Aster moments and so on. So last year it was Azaleas. Plus, they were at a great price, so how could I resist? A girl can only have so much self-restraint.

Anyway, I may have gone a little Azalea-happy, but my enthusiasm wasn’t going to guarantee that they’d do well for me, especially since I’d never grown one outdoors.

But.

It seems that one of them is rather happy in my humble little garden under my humble care, and has flowered to let me know just how happy it is.

Apparently, very happy. Just look at the blooms.


They are unbelievable. They practically glow in the dark. Even the photos don’t quite capture the intensity of these orange flowers.

Here is the development that I witnessed over a couple of weeks. The plant filled up with blooms...



...and I waited patiently for them to open up.



And within a few short days, the flowers emerged.



They are the most stunning orange I’ve ever seen.



And I was quite flattered that this plant has bloomed for me despite it being my first attempt at growing an Azalea.


Now, I hope that the other two Azaleas in my garden perform just as well. There are no signs yet of flowers, but we’ll see what happens. At the very least, I’ve gotten a glimpse into how amazing these plants are.

Book It - We Need To Talk About Kevin

This week’s featured book:

We Need To Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver

Overview:

Eva never really wanted to be a mother-and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.


My Comments:

This is one of the most thought-provoking and hauntingly disturbing books I’ve ever read. It’s a book that stays with you long after you’re done with it. The big question you’ll ask yourself as the story progresses is “Are people born evil or are they made that way?” It’s the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture. Was Kevin born this way, or was he a product of his environment? Should his mother take the blame for how he turned out, or was he predisposed to his antisocial behaviour? And if he was predisposed, was there anything she could have done to prevent or modify it? Read the story and see what conclusion you come up with.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Stroll Through The Garden

I can’t tell you just how much work I’ve gotten done in the garden in the past week or two, or how many new perennials I’ve added. And there’s still room in some of the flower beds for more plants. I’m exhausted. But it’s a good type of exhaustion; the type that feeds the soul.

In addition to some perennials and a few annuals, I’ve also planted some vegetables. Not that many; just enough to get me started on growing homegrown food: a couple of cherry tomato plants, a couple of peppers (red and orange), a zucchini and an eggplant. Plus I threw in some herbs for good measure: oregano, parsley and basil. See, not all that much. I just don’t have enough experience yet with veggies and herbs, so I’m getting into it slowly.

As far as fruits go, I have three strawberry plants in one of the flower beds, and I’ve planted a raspberry, blueberry and blackberry bush on the left side of the yard; all three of which are growing very well so far.

On the other side of my garden (basking in the sun) is this season’s star addition: a cherry tree! Yes, we bought and planted a cherry tree a few weeks ago and it is absolutely adorable.

Take a look:


Isn’t it the cutest little thing? It’s tiny, but it will grow.

And, of course, there’s always flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Come along, once again, for another stroll through my garden...


Even as the flowering season comes to an end for Pulsatilla vulgaris, it doesn’t leave quietly. There are three or four flowers left on the plant, and they are simply gorgeous.




I have a couple of ferns growing in one of my flower beds, although I’m not sure what types they are. My friend Joy who lives here in Kingston (author of a wonderful gardening blog, and a gardening guru) gave them to me a couple of years ago. They are not quite full grown yet, but they’re already looking spectacular.




I planted Aster alpinus 'Happy End' last year under my kitchen window quite late in the season last year, so I never got a chance to see it bloom. The flowers are even prettier than I’d hoped for.





In 2010, we planted Syringa meyeri 'Palibin', a dwarf lilac tree. It was so tiny and frail-looking that first year that I was afraid it wouldn’t get through the winter. But it did. And it’s now headed into its third season. It’s grown a little since we brought it home, but still quite small. And yet, despite its size, it is loaded with glorious lilac blooms. Every time I’m near there, it smells heavenly.




These spectacular white flowers belong to Anemone sylvestris; one of my favourite plants.





My Iris pallida ‘Aureo Variegata’, which I added in 2010, had never bloomed until now. The blooms are magnificent.







My two Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ plants have not only exploded in blooms, they’ve also exploded in growth. As soon as they’re done flowering, I’ll have to trim and tidy them up. I am happy that they are doing so well.



How many times have I said that I am in love with columbines? I am. Especially when I see flowers like the ones Aquilegia 'McKana Hybrids' boasts.




Here is a quick glimpse of one of my large flower beds. As you can see, there is still plenty of room for more plants. This section has taken longer to fill because large patches of it sit in the shade for several hours a day. It’s been a bit of a challenge to find plants (I like) that will fare well here. The chair in the photo is one of a few where I plant myself with camera in hand and patiently wait for photo opportunities.



This is another place where I sit with camera in hand and snap photos of my backyard critters. I can sit there for long stretches of time in deep thought as I take in the serenity of Mother Nature; my favourite place to be.



And finally, my favourite discovery on this stroll: my wonderful husband...the best addition to my garden of life.



Thanks for walking along with me. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, join me in the backyard; that’s where I’ll be.

Preparing To Bloom

“One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.”
- W.E. Johns -

It is always exciting to witness a flower preparing to bloom...